Comedy For The Human Spirit by Evey McKellar

In improv class we begin with a few warm-ups. They get the blood flowing, they help lower our defenses and embrace the playfulness of the environment, they get us engaged. They help us practice saying yes, being present, and supporting one another. 

One warm-up involves everyone standing in a circle, with one person in the middle. The middle person starts singing a song, and the rest of us are tasked with singing along as quickly as we are able. They begin, we join in. Then, the task of the exercise is for someone else to tap them on the shoulder and replace them as the person in the middle, singing. 

The first time I experienced this warm-up, I stood the entire time on the outside of the circle. It was a big enough group, and the exercise finished before I leapt out there to begin a song. I kept holding back; I wanted to play, but I was unable to think of a song in the midst of all the commotion. 

Instead, I thought about the 2012 movie Pitch Perfect. A late night a cappella battle finds someone beginning a song, with another jumping in to sing a new song based on a word that overlaps.

I never jumped in to our improv singing circle, because I could never land on a song to contribute.

I spent the entire exercise not playing along, because I thought the point of the game was to get out there and have a song…

I was trying to be fully prepared. 

I was trying to be ready. 

I was trying to be really good at it. (I was trying to be impressive.)

Later, in another class, we played the game again. This time, I was paying better attention. I heard the teacher explain that the intention was to support the person in the middle. Even if we make up the song, the point is to relieve the middle person as quickly as possible. 

The point is to practice jumping to support. It did not matter what song, if any song, came to mind. 

The point was to send our bodies out into the middle of the circle, lead with our feet, and ask our voices to follow. 

The point was to show up.

The point was to support our partner, rather than wait to be ready to offer that support. 

Before, I spent so much time preparing that I never participated. 

This time, I managed to leap out in the middle of that singing circle, and tap out in support of my peer. Not once, but twice, I showed up, opened my mouth, and made up a song. 

This time, I not only participated, but I co-created the game we shared. Perhaps no one else would have thought of the songs that popped into my head as I leapt into the middle. 

There have been times in life that I have felt unprepared, afraid, and certain that I cannot contribute without having more ready to go. 

And yet, whether professional or personal, when I have managed to follow my feet and show up, the contribution of my creativity, insight, and personhood has still been an asset.

Often, much of the good work is done in the togetherness and co-creation. 

I am learning that I am capable of showing up, even if I am not ready. And I am learning that I need to show up, because what I bring and the way I see the world is uniquely valuable to the world around me. And what I gain from encountering others is uniquely valuable to the world and me. 

I am better for having shown up. 

We are better when you show up. 

Ready or not…

Evey McKellar is a Level 3 Improv student, a writer and UMC clergy. She works for a nonprofit, lives in Dallas, and loves Cane Rosso. 

Chris Beasley - A Warm Welcome

DCH Remix is blog series will explores the diversity of Dallas Comedy House. It will consist of interviews of students and performers who identifies as a person of color to learn about their creative journey here at DCH.

At last week's improv jam, I introduced myself to Chris Beasley and we had lovely chat in the PDogs green room. He is a new face to the DCH Improv Program even though he has been seeing shows here for the past 5 years. He is a Dallas native, Texas A&M alumni, Eagles Scout, and a history teacher.

 Chris Beasley 

Chris Beasley 

Tyla Gibson: What drew you here to DCH?

Chris Beasley: What drew me here ironically: About 5 years ago, I worked for CBS Radio and the guys I worked with were the K&C Masterpiece, Kevin and Corey, and they were just hilarious and so funny. They asked to me to step into a role on their show but I turned it down because I didn’t think I was funny enough to vibe with them. Fast forward to a month ago, I tore my Achilles and I had surgery on it. After the surgery, I ended up with blood clots in my lungs and had to be hospitalized. Every doctor told me that I could have easily died so it was good that I was in there. When something traumatic happens, you look back and think what have I been doing? Where am I at? I looked back to when I turned down that position. I decided that I was going to start over. I’m going to get funny. I’m going to do what I need to do to feel confident about my delivery or whatever it is. Now I’m going to try to go back to CBS and see they have a role for me and grow myself in that world. That’s why I’m here and I’m not wasting anytime.

TG: That’s really dope! I’m really proud of you being able to make that first jump. I guess it is true when you go through something traumatic, you gain a whole new perspective on life.

CB: Exactly!!

TG: So what level are you right now?

CB: Level 1 Improv. I started on Sunday!

TG: Oh so you just started. Oh you’re a baby!

CB: I know but I've got to get saturated. I figured I start coming to shows right away and not waste anytime.

TG: What shows have you seen so far and what have you’ve like about them?

CB: I’ve been to several improv shows. I don’t know the troupe's name, but we’ve talk about this in class. The funniest thing that I see is when they harp on the realities of the world and repeatedly go at the same joke. Like you become a part of the troupe when you sitting there watching them do it and it just becomes hilarious. Just seeing the community vibe and the audience being a part of the show. It's like you get a family feeling when watching shows, so that’s what I’m looking forward to being apart of.

TG: Ok! Have you played at the jam or is this your first time?

CB: This is my first time. So with the injury, I’m a little hesitant of getting on stage until I can walk really well. But once I can do that, then I’m hopping in for sure.

TG: Do you feel like you’re included here at DCH and how do you like the vibe here?

CB: You know what’s empowering about meeting people here is that you realize there’s a little bit of diversity with every person here. As far as interacting with people thus far, I’ve met people from all walks of life. My improv instructor, Scriven Bernard, is a member of the LGBT community and he wouldn't hesitate to be himself here, which promotes the same kind of message to someone that you can be yourself here. So that’s what I’ve felt so far especially being a minority in this world. You learn that some places you don't need to be yourself because it will draw too much attention to yourself and get you in a hairy situation. But that’s not the case here from what I noticed so far and that’s amazing. The Trayvon Martin incident happened a few years ago and that was the first thing that shook my world of what it means to be black in America. It shook me pretty hard because this kid was really killed and no one seemed to bat an eye. I produced a video called Black Does Not Equal Fear. It did fairly well. In a 2 or 3 days, it had 50 thousand views on YouTube. I went to the Katie Couric Show because of it and I meet lot of people including Trayvon’s parents. It was a wake-up call to me. There are still some issues because you think when you’re young “No, we live in a post Civil Rights era and things has been taking care of. The people before us handled all that.” You learn that's not the case. Now it’s definitely out there that people of color had been killed multiple times if its by a civilian or a police officer or whatever that might be. I’ve learned that people don’t like talking about it.

TG: Right! And how would you bring that awareness and conversation here on stage?

CB:  I would love to learn how to skillfully bring a little humor around a sensitive subject without making too much light of it, but to make people comfortable and get them ready to have that conversation. I’ve been having it straight out and it's like hitting someone with a brick. They’re not ready!

TG: Right! I think that’s an advantage that stand-up comics have. They can be able to tell their truth but make it easy for the audience to swallow the pill. Have you thought of branching out to stand-up or are you just going one step at a time?

CB: My plan is to be very focused. I’ve learned that I need to put myself out there because if I stay comfortable then I won't go anywhere. Gotta make yourself uncomfortable but like you said stand-up is an outlet to be very real in a more comfortable way for the audience. I can be blunt but if no one is listening to you then you’re not getting anywhere and we need people listening to our voices.

Tyla Gibson is a student and performer at DCH. She performs with the all-women improv group Sapphire to keep herself sane from being yell at by soccer moms all day.

An Interview with Coach Dale of Texas. High School. Football.

Texas. High School. Football. is the latest sketch comedy show at the Dallas Comedy House, playing Saturdays at 8:00 pm. The show features hilarious characters inspired by the obsession that many Texans have for high school football, but there is one character in particular that I wanted to know a bit better. I sat down with Coach Dale to ask the tough questions and find out everything about this legendary figure.

Bits & Bites: Dot's Hop House

I maintain that the best way to prepare for stage time or improv class, is to just sit together, share a meal, and shoot the breeze. 

A few short years ago, Dallas Comedy House was not where it stands now. In fact, it used to be off of Commerce St, across the street from The Bomb Factory. Alas, in 2015, DCH packed up and moved to the current digs on Main street. After DCH's exit, a new place was opened in the space where it once stood, Dot's Hop House.

Interns of the Weeks: Kelsey Merritt and Allison Krauska!

Raye Maddox here, Intern Manager, with a long awaited second installment of Intern of the Week: Season 2! It’s been awhile! Think of it like a Writer’s Strike but not that! If you’re new to the show, this is where I (and you by extension) get the blessing of getting to know some of Dallas Comedy House’s House Interns! Nominated by their peer’s and netting themselves a $20 DCH Bar Tab, four show tickets to ANYTHING, and, of course, this blog, it’s Kelsey Merritt and Allison Krauska!

  (On the Left: Kelsey and Michaela being awarded Dual Nobel Peace Prizes! On the Right: Allison in front of the setting sun of an alien world: [location unknown]!)

(On the Left: Kelsey and Michaela being awarded Dual Nobel Peace Prizes! On the Right: Allison in front of the setting sun of an alien world: [location unknown]!)

Where is your hometown?

Kelsey: East Bernard, TX

Allison: I am from good ol’ Mesquite, Tx

What class are you taking?

K: Graduated January 2018! 

A: Currently, I am finishing Improv Level 4, working to graduate in 2018 from the DCH Improv Program.

What’s something you’re passionate about?

K: Physical movement. Also community. DCH makes it pretty easy to find both of these. I generally say I’m better if moving. I think it gives my body a chance to catch up with my brain. One of my favorite ways to get to know people is to go for a walk. Amy Poehler mentions this in Yes, Please and I agree that “walking the beat” can help take conversations and friendships to the next level. There’s something about going for walks that takes the pressure off the other person and allows you to just enjoy going somewhere together.

A: While improv has become a passion of mine and a release from the stress of the real world, my friends know me for two things: my love traveling and the Dallas Stars. I have been to 6 out of 7 continents!! (Antarctica is a little expense and tricky to get to, but I’ll get it one day!)

What’s the best food?

K: Either bacon wrapped dates or spinach and artichoke dip with warm pita bread. Also, almost any ice cream.

A: Out of the whole world, my favorite food remains to be Mexican.

What’s the worst candy?

K: Grape flavored anything. Of all the fake flavors that exist in this world, it is by far the most removed from the taste of the actual fruit. It just makes me think of cough syrup. Bleck.

A: I still despise Andes Mints.

Favorite movie?

K: The Breakfast Club. I love so many movies and there are so many others that on any given day I’d respond with, but this movie came to me at a particular time in my life. Sometimes you see your personal struggle translated and verbalized so perfectly at a critical moment of identity struggle and I think you connect to that movie/music/art/etc. in a permanent way. That’s the most accurate way I can describe my love for that movie. Growing up I related to Emilio Estevez’s character on a profound level. I might do his monologue for Pipeline one day if I’m brave enough.

A: My favorite movie series continues to be the Fast and Furious Franchise because I live my life a quarter mile at a time... I mean, I may plan more than a quarter mile metaphorically, but you get the idea. I’m a big fan.

What’s just the worst?

K:  People who leave pens unclicked or uncapped. It’s the littlest thing, but it drives me up the wall. It’s the smallest act of respect you can have for something that is yours or perhaps is borrowed. Also, why take the chance that you’ll ruin a perfectly good pen. Just cap/click your pen. What did that pen ever do to you??

A: The worst is burnt orange because I bleed maroon. That makes no sense to anyone who didn’t graduate from Texas A&M. Gig’em!

What’s some good advice?

K:

  1. “We can’t hate ourselves into a version of ourselves that we love.” – Lori Deschene

  2. Also, “At all time until death, we are in the middle of our stories, with new elements constantly being added.” – Carolyn Ellis, Autoethnography: An Overview, 2011

  3. Sorry, one more, “To neglect action is to love life as a bystander, complacent, isolated; to neglect reflection is to transgress for the sake of transgression, to live life frenetic, solipsistic, and again, isolated.” – Fassett and Warren, Critical Communication Pedagogy, 2007

A: My advice would be that if you ever question if you should go or not go, always go... to visit a family member, to encourage a friend, to have dinner with a stranger, to travel the world... wherever life calls you, don’t be afraid to go and don’t be afraid to know who you are and what you stand for.

Kelsey Merritt is an absolute delight in any room she occupies! She’ll throw her hand in for occasional Showcase Sundays and you never know when she’ll be donning that black staff shirt regularly! Catch her in Sapphire or Block Party and Pipeline!

Allison Krauska rises quickly through the classes and quickly solidified herself as a fantastic intern! Hailed as “The Woman with No Enemies” strike up a conversation with her when she’s not globe-trotting! If you do so, you’ll find you just acquired a new friend!

Raye Maddox is the Assistant to Garbage Ideas Disposal and the Intern Manager. He’s very excited about Westworld right now and looking very much forward to Solo. You can see him do improv in Midnight Passion, The Revenge Society, Deep Dish, and Kill Me Please. He also hosts the free monthly variety show Block Party every last Wednesday of the month!

An Interview With Sarah Adams (Part 2)

The conclusion to An Interview With Sarah Adams that was published last week. 

Emily:  So, are you auditioning for parts as a pregnant person? (Editors Note: this interview took place before Sarah gave birth to her beautiful son) Has there been any effect on your acting and directing, like, have you experienced any push back? Like Ali Wong talked in her stand-up about how she told her friends “I’m gonna get pregnant!” and they basically all said “But you’re doing so well!”

Sarah: [laughs] Oh, yeah, that’s great. So, pregnancy has been interesting with what I do for a living. Um, it was a fear of mine, no one gave it to me, but it was a fear of mine like, “Oh, I’m gonna die out overnight, for eleven months no one’s gonna hear from me”, but it wasn’t that way! I remember when I got pregnant, the first people I told were my parents, my family, and then the next day went to my agent like, “Hey guys…so here’s something fun that just happened.” And they were so supportive! Now again, I’m blessed with an agency that is women-run and operated, and they’re badass chicks. This is not their first rodeo with actresses that get pregnant. Like, you can procreate! It’s fine! But we did decide that we weren’t going to make it public for awhile, because once it’s known that you’re pregnant, casting directors automatically think that at eight weeks I’d look the same as eight months, which is not true.

I booked quite a bit at the beginning. Sidebar for those of you who are actors who do get pregnant: doing fittings when you’re hiding your pregnancy, especially for me, was a nightmare. Because you don’t look necessarily bigger, but you’re bloated. You don’t have a cute baby bump, you’re just BLEGH. You feel like you just ate a cheeseburger and you’re hungover, and you look weird, and you go into fittings and no one knows you’re pregnant so you’re like, "Let’s do a bigger size! Maybe something looser, no reason.” So, that was an interesting learning experience, but I booked a lot. Then an opportunity came up, Octoberish, and they specifically asked for real people, or actors who had a point of view. In the casting note they said, "You can be a guitar player, or pregnant, or whatever,” and I emailed my agent and said “Hey, I saw I can be pregnant. Can I be pregnant in the audition?” and she was like “Yeah girl!” And I booked it! And it was all because of my “bit”, which is my baby, so that was a surprise, like “I get to be on set as a pregnant person, I don’t have to hide my bump,” and then I booked another role with Ford as a pregnant woman. So, now the opportunities are still coming in, but it has to be for a pregnant person, or real people, or just someone who doesn’t care, like, “Oh, you’re pregnant? Great.” Those jobs are out there, more so for commercial work than for TV. But it’s an interesting place, because I didn’t know what was going to happen. Like people act weird about pregnant women sometimes, but it’s weird in a good way. Like I had a casting director tell me one time, "Oh I bet you book a whole lot because you’re pregnant! People love pregnant women for commercials.” And it was true! It’s been a lovely balance of being able to work and being able to take care of myself. But it was scary because I didn’t know what was going to happen.
 

Emily: Final question: what is the difference in your mindset being in a director role and being on set when someone else is directing?

 Sarah directing on the set of  Civic Duty.  

Sarah directing on the set of Civic Duty. 

Sarah: Oh man, that’s a great question. They work together really well. Where I am with what I’ve been able to produce, most recently direct, all credit goes to my time on set as an actress. Because through that, I’ve been able to meet amazing crew and all these talented people that you’re getting to know on set, networking, making friends with people. Those friendships make Dallas feel much smaller, which is nice. It’s a slow burn, like with Supporting Roles I sent the script over to a friend of mine who directed it, and he brought his own amazing crew that I now know and get to work with. With Supporting Roles, I wanted to write the kind of role that I wasn’t getting auditions for. If no one’s going to put it there for me, why would I wait for someone to do that when I could do that on my own? And again, the purpose there was to fill that creative avenue, but it became bigger than we imagined. We got into film festivals and raised money, and it gave me that spark to do more producing, more writing.

So, Maggie and I started the Monthly Junk in 2015. It just started out with us improvising. It eventually grew into The Service Elevator, which we wrote and produced and acted in it. We both took more of the back-end work, hiring crew, etc, and I now knew all these great people I loved to work with. From there, when we started writing Civic Duty, it became even bigger, and we brought in producers we met along the way, who were able to help get people paid on set. That was the first time that I was like,“Okay Maggie, I think I want to direct this.” And for me to say that out loud, to be like “Am I allowed to say that yet? Can I pull it off? I didn’t go to school for directing because I tried to but didn’t graduate.” I just had an idea, and Maggie supported it, and we wrote it, and she supported me directing it. So, many amazing people that I’ve met along this journey supported this amazing idea that I had, even financially supported it, so it wasn’t just me.

And, with acting, it all started just with me auditioning, so I could be in this place. When six years ago Sarah, 2012, thought about her goals, she thought, “I want to be on TV, do comedy, blah blah blah,” but now, through time and finding out what I really love - now I’m like, “Oh I really enjoy this process of creating something out of nothing, developing it, writing it with somebody, and then getting people to believe in it, and then the process on set, this beautiful conglomeration of creative talent that can make something really cool. I love that bit – it geeks me out!" I love the work it takes, I love that I can feel both sides of my brain. With Civic Duty, I wondered a little if I was going to miss being on camera, but I loved seeing the actors come together, and do better things, and say better things that I didn’t write! We had an amazing cast of people.

I’m not giving up acting and auditioning. It’s so much fun, but it’s also how I make my money, and how I provide. Which feels weird to say, but that’s what I do!

So, it’s working hand in hand. One’s giving me this opportunity to be on set, meet new people, work as often as I can, and provide, while the other one is doing something very similar, but in a very different way. I don’t know if I’m ever going to make money from writing and directing and producing, but I’m okay with it because I love doing it so much. I’ve learned over the past few years from doing improv that I shouldn’t ever put a limit or a band around what I think it could be. It’s gonna be what it is, and that’s a really cool place for me to be in right now. It’s been a really long process of getting to this place, and doing everything you love and trusting that you’re enough. So I’m excited, and it’s only been six years! And thank god for improv, because if I hadn’t gotten into that, I would still be at that place at the beginning, frustrated, like why isn’t this working? That’s why it’s so important when looking at getting an agent to say, “What do I want to do? At this point in time, why do I want to make this a profession? What do I want to get out of it?”

Something I keep telling myself is something that someone else told me early on: it’s a marathon. We’re not sprinting towards anything. This industry isn’t going to go away, it’s going to evolve and change, but you don’t have to worry about missing your chance. Like I’m a big believer in you’re not gonna miss your chance, you’re gonna be there, you’re gonna be ready, life’s gonna prepare you for whatever it is.

Emily Ball is a writer, improviser, and stand-up comedian based out of Dallas, TX. She likes to spend her free time looking at pictures of horses and prying dangerous objects out of her dog's mouth. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @emmballs.